Former Penn Swimmer Lia Thomas Responds to Critics of Transgender Women Athletes

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVMay 31, 2022

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 19:  University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas reacts after swimming the 100 Freestyle prelims at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 19th, 2022 at the McAuley Aquatic Center in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Former Penn swimmer Lia Thomas pushed back on critics of transgender women competing in women's sports, saying there is no evidence of any major advantage gained.

"Trans women competing in women's sports does not threaten women's sports as a whole," Thomas told Katie Barnes of ESPN. "Trans women are a very small minority of all athletes. The NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women's sports have been around for 10-plus years. And we haven't seen any massive wave of trans women dominating."

Thomas became the center of the debate surrounding transgender women competing in cisgender women's sports as she soared to stardom in the pool for Penn. She became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA championship in March, taking home the 500-meter freestyle. Thomas finished fifth in the 200 freestyle and eighth in the 100 free at NCAA championships.

Thomas previously competed on the men's team during her first three years at Penn. She began transitioning in 2019 ahead of her junior season, and she remained on the men's team while undergoing hormone therapy.

After the 2020-21 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomas joined the women's team in 2021-22. She became one of the nation's best women's swimmers, sending the sport into a polarized debate in the process.

"The biggest misconception, I think, is the reason I transitioned," Thomas said. "People will say, 'Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage, so she could win.' I transitioned to be happy, to be true to myself."

Thomas fared better against women than men in every event and defeated Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant by 1.75 seconds in her 500-meter freestyle win at the NCAA Championships. However, Thomas followed every NCAA guideline regarding transgender athletes and saw dips in her times compared to when she was competing against men.

The NCAA has since adjusted its rules to follow those set by sports' national governing bodies. USA Swimming announced a requirement of 36 months of testosterone suppression for transgender women in February. The previous NCAA policy required only 12 months of hormone therapy; Thomas had undergone 30 months when her senior season began.

"It's not taking away opportunities from cis women really," Thomas said. "Trans women are women, so it's still a woman who is getting that scholarship or that opportunity."

Some predominantly Republican states have adopted restrictive policies on transgender women and girls competing on teams that match their gender identity in recent years, with some outright banning trans women and girls from women's and girls' sports.